Sunday, January 31, 2010

His Lady Mistress by Elizabeth Rolls ****

I downloaded the free Kindle for iPhone App and have read a few books on the iPhone. It's pretty small but still, it's easy to hold and easy enough to read, and there's a bunch of FREE books as well as very inexpensive ones!

That being said, I downloaded this one for free, not expecting much (the free ones aren't always very good) and it was good! I hadn't read Rolls before, I'm not even familiar with her work at all, but it was actually better than I expected from something free from Amazon. I just read the review at All About Romance, and dang if now I don't feel guilty about liking it, since, yeah, some of the points the reviewer made are valid.

I think, besides being FREE, what made me like it was the ending when he's so besotted. I just love a besotted hero - although, I guess he doesn't really fit the prototype of a besotted hero who worships the heroine and always loved her from the beginning. So, now I'm not making much sense.

The heroine is Verity - who is now, Cinderella-esque, living as a servant in her aunt and uncle's home. (Oh, that's it - I love Cinderella stories!) There's a reason, which isn't really revealed until the end, why they are so mean to her - beside just being mean people. They've even made her change her name, I guessed at the beginning just to keep people from realizing she was related to them.

Years earlier, at 15, Verity had watched her father be buried in an unmarked grave, having committed suicide. An unnamed stranger had come to oversee the burial, and helped her plant flowers on the grave, then disappeared the next day. She's always kept him in her dreams and fantasies - then, lo, who should appear at a house party given by her aunt and uncle?

Max, now an earl, has really come to see how the young waif from that night fared. He had served under her father in the war, not being first in line for the earldom, but his older brother died, and he was born 30 minutes before his twin brother - now crippled - so he gets the title. However, his parents always blamed him for the twin being crippled and his mother made him promise he would never marry and/or produce an heir so the twin could get the title. Yeah, as if.

ok that plot point was pretty weak.

Verity (under her new name) attracts Max (she knows who he is; he doesn't know who she is) and he offers to keep her as his mistress to get her away from the awful family, who has told him Verity is dead. She turns him down, then changes her mind when she decides it would be a way to escape. Then, ooooops he discovers she is Verity and the fun begins. She doesn't want to be his mistress, she just wants to escape. He can't believe he deflowered his captain's daughter and decides they must marry but he can't boink her anymore because he promised Mama he wouldn't have children.

It seems to me, if he doesn't die before the twin, he's the earl forever anyway.

But really, it was all their misunderstandings - not The Big Miz - that actually I found realistic and liked. Rolls writes it very well, even if it's frustrating for them to so misunderstand each other. Verity has developed such a fantasy about Max, but Max has to take time to realize his own feelings towards her. There's the lust and chemistry, but then he also admires her courage and her tenacity. He does fall in love with her in time and that's the part I liked!

and the twin really didn't believe he deserved the earldom or that Max was the reason he was crippled, so that was a silly plot point.

OK I'm still going with my gut - 4 stars.

Freefall by Joann Ross ***

My first experience with author Joann Ross was a Louisiana bayou series (Blue Bayou and the Callahan Brothers) and I liked them. However, I didn't read any more by her until a new release came up, I believe it was #3 or #4 in a series, and it sounded good. I got the new release but never read it as I prefer to read series in order and I was moving and...

I downloaded Freefall, the #1 in this series, from and finally got around to listening to it this weekend. It was pretty good and maybe I'll get around to reading or listening to the rest of them, eventually.

This is the High Risk series, and Freefall's hero is a Navy SEAL (surprise, surprise) who left the service and is picking up the pieces of his life after a particularly bad clusterfuck in Afghanistan where most of his team - not just a SEAL team, but Rangers and Marines too - were killed. Zach's back in his hometown of Swann Island, South Carolina.

Our lovely heroine is also a quasi-resident, or former resident of Swann Island - Sabrina Swann, as it happens. Her father and mother were artsy types who traveled the world, leaving Sabrina in hotels and boarding schools all over Europe, and her grandmother's home on Swann Island, Swannsea (spelling?) is really the only place she considered home. She spent a few summers there, and during her pivotal teen years had the biggest crush on Zach. She had a terrific job, running a fabulous hotel in Florence, Italy, when BOOM a terrorist blows up the hotel, and Sabrina decides to take a hiatus and return to her roots to recover mentally. Unfortunately, her grandmother died a few months earlier and Sabrina comes back to take care of the estate.

In the midst of all this, some unnamed horrible serial killer is keeping young women caged somewhere and after treating them as slaves, murders them and moves on to the next one.

There's a secondary romance going on - best friends both to each other growing up and to Zach and Sabrina, Tatiana and Nate (he's former Marine and the sheriff now) are an ongoing romance during the story. Some of these plot points were so incredibly similar to a book I'm reading on my iPhone/kindle and another book I just read that I kept getting confused - the new sheriff being the son of the old sheriff, SEALS, girls being raised by grandmothers, all that!!

Frankly, I think authors should be more careful about names in their stories - Zach, Nate, Quinn, John - those names all ran together in my head, and I spent a fair amount of time wondering which was which while I listened. You can't really reference back during audio books to see which character said what.

It's a murder mystery background to a finding-love-again romance foreground. There's immediate chemistry between Zach and Sabrina, now that she's no longer jailbait. He's the contractor working on her grandmother's historical old home, and there's that SEAL thing going on, and his best friend the sheriff is involved, and, well, they find peace, love and the killer at the end.

The narrator was ok - she did voices well, and managed to get a different voice going for each character, but she did have an odd quirk or 2 that kept her from really being great. For one thing, those syrupy southern accents on everyone tired me out after a while. Everyone except of course Sabrina who did not grow up around there. The narrator, in my opinion, needed to stop emphasizing the letter T so much and to enunciate her vowels a little better. The words "during" and "enduring" sounded like "doring" and "endoring", as a fer instance. Those things can really mess up a good story for me - the narrator can make an OK book fabulous and a fabulous book just OK. That being said, I think the book was probably just OK even if Barbara Rosenblat had read it to me. Somehow that old hack of bringing in a second characer with murder on his mind to confuse you about who the real murderer wasn't very refreshing. The minute that fellow's motive was revealed, it was obvious he wasn't the serial killer, but just another character out for revenge.

So *** three stars for a much-used plot, much-used characters, confusing names and an OK narrator.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Caine's Reckoning by Sarah McCarty **

I went back and forth in my head about the rating for this. I figure 3 stars is "eh, ok" but the more I thought about it, 3 stars is "I liked it" and I really didn't. I mean, I didn't hate it. I finished it. But I didn't really like it.

I got it on audio, and that may or may not have colored my rating. The narrator was ok - I'd give her 3 stars. She had a southern accent thing going on - I'm not sure I've listened to anything by her before, so I don't know if that's her normal speech pattern or something for the book. Everyone had a southern accent. That's ok, it was Texas (decades ago - not sure exactly of the era, but "long ago", 19th century. Even those of Indian blood had the southern accent. Go figure.

I knew McCarty's work is a little more raw and explicit than mainstream, although I wouldn't say it's "romantica" (romance + erotica) so much as just, well, more explicit. I was expecting that. Somehow, though, it became almost pedantic. Ok, we're gonna spread some lips here, and there's gonna be some juicy bits and "cream" and then he's gonna have to taste her and at this point, I'm thinking, get it over with and let's get back to the story. It wasn't really sexy - more like a primer in ways to describe foreplay and sex in books, with lots of words that quickly became icky triggers for me, even though in other books they don't bother me. OK, call it a pussy - a few times, maybe. But in every other sentence it started to give me an eye twitch.

The heroine Desi started out feisty and someone who could take care of herself, then when she got a little cleaned up, she was this weird prudish girl who had been raised rich with not a care in the world, and thought so many things were not proper. And here she'd been a captive of comancheros and then used as a whore for several months - talk about not proper. And then - spoiler alert - turns out she likes a little rough stuff after all, which seemed sort of weird since she'd been so abused for so long. I had a hard time keeping up.

Since it is the first book of the Hell's Eight, of course we had to meet the other 7 (Caine being #1) and their sweet feisty elderly female caretaker (yeah, she's younger than I am, so elderly, huh?) who keeps them all honest and cleaned up. And her man. And the dog. That all took a while.

I dunno, I listened to the whole thing, and decided the bad guys were really really evil and bad (boooo!! hisssss!) and the good guys were incredibly good (yay! whoo hoo!) in a sort of cartoony way. If you like erotic romance, fully described bodily fluids, butt seks and eye candy covers mixed with 19th century Texas Rangers, go git it. I'll save my credits, though, thank you very much.

Friday, January 8, 2010

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon *****

SPOILER ALERT if you don't want any details, don't read - and yes, I refer to some things that happen in my review, so there are spoilers.

This is the first Outlander book I listened to on audio first. Usually I read it first, then do the audio but the audio came out at the same time, so I just went ahead and listened. Davina Porter is such a wonderful narrator, that I didn't have any trouble following along. But now I'm having that THING you get with Outlander - you know, where you need to go back and really look again at something that happened earlier in the book. I really need to learn to use bookmarks on my ipod (is that possible? must google)

Of course, it was wonderful. A long, winding road of a story, going back and forth between times and dates and eras and countries. It's a story that keeps putting poor Claire and Jamie in danger's way - even when you know Jamie will find her and save her, or she him. Now we also have to worry about Roger and Bree - and Jem and Mandy! (and Ian and Rollo too) Lord John and Willie play big roles in this, and it will help a reader to have read all the Lord John books to keep up with various references.

Knowing a little American history would be helpful too - I grinned at Claire's trying to remember helping Bree with American history so she could remember when certain things happen. That would be me - shaking hands with Benedict Arnold and trying to remember exactly what he did when that makes him so infamous today!

The Revolutionary War is fully underway throughout the book, and Willie is an officer for the British side, making his Papa Lord John proud. He undergoes some harrowing experiences and gets in a scrape or 2 - he is only 19 or so at the time. Lord John is approached by a mysterious stranger - who is no stranger to him at all. There's a mystery, though. I cannot even recall if the mystery is fully resolved. It's almost a Lord John story-within-the-Claire/Jamie-story.

Jamie and Claire are determined to get to Scotland, presumably for Jamie's printing press, but also to finally return young Ian to his parents, more than 10 years after he was abducted by pirates. He's so different now - part Mohawk, very independent. But Ian and Jamie are both pressed into service for the rebels, and Claire travels along as company surgeon until they can make their way to a ship headed east.

Bree has a new job as an engineer near their Lallybroch home, and Roger stays home with the kids, doing various ongoing restoration, studying local music and even getting involved in the community after the local kids hear Jem give a great Gaelic curse. Gaelic is a dying language, and most of them don't know it - so Roger starts a class. But there's another mysterious stranger in the book, this time in current day Scotland - and he's no stranger either!

The closer you get to the end of the book, the faster things start - well, falling apart. Yes, J&C make it to Scotland (surely every fan has already read the famous Laoghaire scene?), but then - oh no! Fergus' son needs surgery in America, and old Ian is dying in Scotland, and Jem goes to spend the night with a trusted friend but is his father really trustworthy, or... is Jem being forced by him to time travel?

For a while it seemed as if there were going to be this one particular huge cliffhanger with Jamie and Claire - I prepared myself for it, but while it was resolved, there were issues now that Jamie is going to have to really prepare himself for... Let's just say that old plotline, the hero misses the ship and the ship sinks, makes an entrance at some point... and what would you do if you were Claire. Except you are not Claire, you're Omnipotent and Know All. Ew. (Jamie's fine, don't worry. But will he bitch slap John for what happened while they all thought Jamie lost at sea?)

And yes, a cliffhanger or two are dangling at the end - did Roger go too close to the stones? Will they find Jem?

Once again Gabaldon and Porter take me on a fantastic adventure and I really loved every minute. 4 more years! but 5 stars

Hot Pursuit by Suzanne Brockmann *****

I've been a Troubleshooter (TSS) fan since I picked up a book (not the first in the series) on the used book table, and have read them all - last 2 or maybe 3 on audio. I love the way the audio is done for the series: a woman reads all the sections written from a female point of view, and a man reads all the male pov. Brockmann uses several characters' pov to illustrate the story, including, like Linda Howard, the unknown perp's. The narrators are great, too - at the top of my list of great narrators.

If you don't know Brockmann or the TSSeries, you need to know she bases the books around a loosely knit group of men who started out as a SEAL team, and the women (who can't be SEALS) and as the series grew, added a couple of FBI agents, a local law enforcement officer or 2, and various other military and law-enforcement men and women. Each book generally focuses on one couple, with at least 1 other secondary romance, but the plot itself is not about the relationship as much as it is about solving a crime or facing a war/battle and how the characters react to it and to each other. At the beginning of the series, some of the secondary romances involved older couples - from and/or during World War II as flashbacks, and how they were faring now.

It's so layered - characters situations changing, characters being added, that while it might be possible to read as a stand-alone and not know all the characters, I like much more that it's more like an extended family. When she brings up inviting Rick Alvarez and his wife Annie, you remember them from Florida where Rick was local law involved in finding Sam's first wife and daughter. Many of the characters are now involved in a personal security firm called Troubleshooters, while others are still SEALS and FBI agents. They marry, they have kids, they live dangerous lives, they have great friendships - yeah, that would be my life in my dreams!!

In Hot Pursuit, an old nemesis from an earlier story reappears - The Dentist, known for viciously butchering his victims to death and taking their teeth. He's got a thing for Alyssa Locke, and he has a brilliant plan to seduce her to him by revealing himself for the first time in 2 years, knowing she'll be on the case, so he can kill her. Alyssa gets called by Savannah to come help a friend, a local politician who has received some threats. Alyssa takes Sam and baby Ash on site, and Jules joins them, bringing Robin. A number of other familiar characters are there - Dan Gillman, Izzy - yeah, child bride Eden gone, but Izzy still loves her, and some others. Dan takes the secondary romance this time - seducing the politician's best friend and office manager Jen. Everybody figures it's a good 2-week vacation, giving a politician some defense lessons and installing some security.

Lots of clues and characters and incidences are thrown in to keep you on the edge of your seat, and maybe someone else figured out the identity of The Dentist early on, but I sure didn't - in fact, that final scene even had me wondering if I was wrong, even though it was pretty clear who it was. Alyssa's Spidey senses were all out of whack - I guess having a baby will do that even to SuperWoman. Alyssa's the most kickass Troubleshooter female character there is, so when even she is fooled... yeah, her ol' cowboy Sam has to do a little CaveMan near the end (his favorite role, I think - especially since he's being such a good daddy). We got a little bit of the old Sam-and-Alyssa chemistry in bed too. Whew - nuff said. When they hated each other, though, there was a lot more tension.

Brockmann lets Dan be a complete asshole to Jen - he's so manipulative I was rolling my eyes. Was he always that way? I have a plan to go back and re-read the whole series some day anyway, so I'll find out then. He works Jen into letting him be her 2-week boyfriend, no strings attached, while everyone is still in the "this security job is going to be a vacation" mode, before anyone realizes there's a serial murderer involved. She lets herself fall, hook - line - and sinker - even while her brain is saying "don't go into the basement alone!!" (wait, that's a horror movie)

Then the adrenaline starts pumping - and, well it's another great one in the series! It was great to catch up on all the characters, even just the brief mentions (I wondered if the mentions got paid less than the main characters...) Except for the identity of The Dentist and locating all his victims, nothing is resolved in the story. Jen rejects Dan; we don't hear about Ken Carmody's health; Savannah wasn't brought up again; Alyssa and Sam are still together and we don't learn if she'll go on the President's team to Afghanistan; ditto Jules and Robin (with Jules tagged for the same team). Ok, just wait for the next book!

5 stars - audio book